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India is on the cusp of a Craft Beer Revolution

By 2025 there will be more than 500 micro-breweries all over India

Sagar Powale

Brew Master

Currently brewing at more brewpubs than one can count, Sagar Powale is a curator of beers served at 7 Degrees Brauhaus, Lord of the drinks, Barrel House, Ninkasi – Imperial Brews and Cookery, The Clock Tower, JW Marriott (Chandigarh, Drifters Brewing Company, Agent Jacks (Gurgaon) and Raize the Bar (Kolkata) to name a few. Completing his degree in Biotechnology from Ruia college, Mumbai and further with a Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University. Sagar Powale shares his enthusiasm for brewing with Sneha Nair, BW.

When did your passion for brewing begin? Could you tell us a little more about your brew education and certificates?

In my early teenage years I helped a friend with his home brewing experiment which was my first interaction with brewing, and to say the least – I was hooked! Since that day my passion for brewing grew exponentially and there has being no turning back. In college, I spent a lot of time trying various varieties of beer available in the market, which wasn’t as broad as it is today, but suffice to say my curiosity for beers eventually led to my future ambitions.

One of my favourite subjects in college was fermentation technology, and I always knew I wanted to work in associated fields. After completing my masters from Heriot-Watt University, I completed an internship in Jarrow Brewery, New Castle, United Kingdom. As a part of the internship, I got an insight on what to expect from brewing, how to innovate and work around challenges.

What thoughts do you have on your customers’ tastes in beer?

As I currently brew in different cities throughout the country, like Gurgaon, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Pune and Mumbai, I noticed there definitely are similarities with tastes, there is more openness and progressiveness to try stronger flavours, more hoppy beers, varieties and variations in the South market. People in North India have sweeter palates as compared to people from South of India. Majority of the beers brewed in the north are wheat beers as its sweet and generally infused with something citrusy, versus a Pilsner or IPA. Pune and Mumbai are diverse markets, people here love light, bitter and crisp beer like a Lager. Pune really loves Ciders, unlike people in Gurgaon. When it comes to Kolkata, it’s a virgin market as far as craft beers are concerned. I have observed people love dark beers here like stout or a porter.

End of the day, as a brewer and an owner, it is our responsibility and right to educate our customers on what is available. In one of my breweries, The Clock Tower, we serve an ‘IPA’ and ‘Scottish Ale’ which is rarely seen in Gurgaon but is getting popular around town and receives good response.

How do you promote craft beer sales at the outlets you manage?

Wherever I brew I take interactive brewing basic sessions first for the people who work there, because as the first point of contact, they should know. We try to focus on involving our customers in a little bit of brewing culture and history. In these brewing sessions I explain what the advantage of craft beer is and how it’s made. Management plays a huge role in this, they can work on organising beer related events like ‘Beer Olympics’ at Raize the Bar, Kolkata and ‘Oktoberfest’ at 7 Degrees Brauhaus, Gurgoan. These events really help people to enjoy and know their beers well. Apart from all these marketing strategies I ensure we serve better craft beer than a bottled one!

What would you say are challenges that affect the production of good beers in India?

Since the craft beer market is still a virgin market in India, brewers face lots of issues in order to make a good beer. Sourcing of raw materials, to even specific beer glass cleaners can be a task. No doubt, you have Indian suppliers who import international brands and products but it’s still a very limited choice. Another important criterion is the machinery or brewery plant. Living in the era of cutting edge technology, there are so many options – German or European plant, metal or stainless steel. All these factors contribute to producing a good mug of beer. Another major area of concern would – Quality Vs Quantity, this is one of the most common questions a brewpub faces.

How do you cater to the strategy of brewing reasonable good beers given the swamped markets?

My brewing philosophy is simple, concentrate on ‘quality’ and ‘hygiene’. I use fine quality of raw materials and proper brewing techniques which makes things easy for me and my team. All my beers follow the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) guidelines which gives me leg up as compared to other breweries in the market. In some of my outlets like ‘7 Degrees Brauhaus’ I follow ‘Reinheitsgebot’ which is German Purity Law that allows use of Malts, Water, Yeast and Hops in making beer. These days, it’s easier to just brew beers because of online brewing courses and crash courses in brewing but it’s very difficult to understand the market demand and brew accordingly. If you don’t have your basic knowledge of how the brewing process works, it’s harder to ensure a quality brew. Even the smallest of things can affect a good brew, example during summers when there is over consumption of beer I discuss with management and make beer unavailable for few days rather than giving unmatured beers on tap – the urge to produce a good beer should overtake the thought of pushing sales and serving below par quality beers.

What is your latest brew, tell us about that?

The advantage of brewing at so many breweries, is that innovation is key to what your brewpub offers, and I love experimenting with all my beers. Recently working on a ‘Rum Beer’ at Lord of the drinks Barrel House, it was the first-time people in Delhi NCR tasted something like this. We had matured this beer with rum chips for more than 2 months giving it perfect smoky, peaty and woody aroma. I have also made ‘Mango beer’ at ‘The Clock Tower’ and trust me this beer got huge fan following. Last but not the least ‘Chocolate Vanilla Stout’ is my latest brew at ‘Agent Jack’s’ and ‘Raize the Bar’. It’s got an interesting mix of Indians and foreigners who enjoy this beer and has become a signature beer in both the outlets.

We are keen to know about your brew style and its uniqueness?

I am comfortable in brewing different styles of beer, but my expertise in brewing different kinds of wheat beers. I love to experiment with my beers, specially by adding some indigenous ingredients into it for example: I had used Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri to make Mango beer at ‘The Clock Tower’ and by using fresh apples from Himachal Pradesh to make ‘Cider’. However, with such a vast profile of outlets I have brewed almost all styles of beer including Hefeweizen, India Pale Ale, Stout, Porter, Pilsner, Seasonal brews like Christmas Ales and Ciders. In future I also have plans of making organic and low-calorie beers. True to style and some-thing to always experiment with is uniqueness of my brewing.

Since the craft beer market is still a virgin market in India, brewers face lots of issues in order to make a good beer. Sourcing of raw materials, to even specific beer glass cleaners can be a task. No doubt, you have Indian suppliers who import international brands and products but it’s still a very limited choice.

What’s the current scenario of the craft beer industry in India and where do you see it going in a few years?

I would say it’s a booming business. India is still underdeveloped market for beer and there is huge potential in this sector and people like good craft beers. Initially, there were just 2-3 states in India that sold microbrewery licences, but today there are more than 10 states which allow to opening microbreweries, since governments are realising the potential. However, setting up a microbrewery is an expensive affair and is regulated by the respective state governments, and every state has different rules and regulations. There are proposals in the pipeline that state governments in Delhi and Rajasthan may soon grant microbrewery licence. I still remember when I started brewing in Gurgaon there were barely 6-7 microbreweries in the city but today there are more than 40 microbreweries.

I think by 2025 there will be more than 500 micro-breweries all over India. Recently, some microbreweries have started bottling their own craft beer, which is really encouraging. India is on the cusp of a craft beer revolution like United States.

Any advice/pointers for the younger and upcoming brew master?

My advice to upcoming brewers would be to learn brewing process theoretically and then start brewing. It is very important to have a strong theoretical knowledge for brewing good beers. Love brewing and brew the beers with dedication. There will be great demand and scope to succeed for a good brewer in brewing industry.

Rapid Fire:

(One-word Answers)

Favourite Beer = Stout

Favourite Beer Bar in India & Abroad = Simba Stout (India) and Guinness (Irish Dry Stout)

One of the places you’ve been yearning to visit to sample the brews?
– Warsteiner Brewery, Germany